tv Lectures in History CSPAN April 24, 2016 12:00am-1:26am EDT
>> the church committee 40 years later. the 1975w segments of hearings that investigated cia, nsa abuses. the church committee 40 years later. next weekend. p.m. with what professor jennifer kane looks at myths about america in world war i. such as that world war i failed to have a lasting impact on american society. this is about one hour and 20 minutes. jennifer keene: alright, so today we are going to talk about america during the first world war. i called this lecture americans at war, the myth busters addition.
i did that kind of intentionally because we think about understanding the first world war in general, there are so many myths and misconceptions attached to the war that it is really interesting for us to first understand why those myths exist and then unpack and see the reality of the experience. i wanted to start first by sort of talking about how this connects to the first world war all. not as america but also the sense of how we entered the first world war to begin with. one of the most common narratives is that world war i was a senseless slaughter. we have already talked about why this war even occurred, but once it is underway, there is this sort of predominant image, those are the images i have up there for you. the idea that this was men sent needlessly to their death.
i have two examples, all quiet on the western front. you are going to like this image. this is the cover for the first english edition of the novel. you will recognize that image from something we discussed last class. last class was a german war bond poster, and that soldier was supposed represent germany's last hope, willing to sacrifice for his country. now it has become recycled as a different image, now it is an image of a man who is needlessly sacrificed for his country. and over here, which is from a movie in the 1960's called "oh, what a lovely war," and i think this little part over here is instructive. "the ever popular wargames with songs, battles, and jokes." it is a war game for them, but it is the men on the battlefield who have to suffer. i'm not trying to suggest to you
that world war i did not involve senseless slaughter. what i do want to suggest is the overarching image obscures the realities to the war in a more general sense. here is one example of this. we have this notion of how many people died overall in this war. we have less of a notion that actually, the majority survived. most men actually will come home. there is tremendous numbers of casualties, but there is also a high rate of survival. we have statistics, 9/10 british soldiers will actually come home. so the sentiment that the senseless slaughter conception of skiers that for us. it also obscures the reality that in fact, soldiers spend a lot of their time outside of the trenches. they were obviously fighting, but the majority of their time with either spent in reserve trenches or behind the lines.
we can take this even one step forward to point out that all the men in the front line, there needs to be at least two or three behind the line supporting them. so there are large numbers of men who survived not just because they are not in the front lines that long, but because so many men are noncombatant. they are serving in the rear. when you have this overall connected to the first world war, it obscures the fact that in 1918, there is a learning curve that it happens. there is a breakthrough in the trench stalemates. the war ends in 1918.
i have this map to show you that at this moment, we have movement in 1914, the stalemate, and then 19--there is movement again. so that challenges lions led by donkeys, generals are stupid, willing to sacrifice many men without thinking about it. they were trying. they were trying to make improvements in how they fought. so the point i am trying to make here is that we can think about myths not just to point out how they are wrong, but by dissecting them, we can learn a little bit more about the war is self. this is something we can do overall for world war i. so the first myth here, myth number one, america was neutral until april 1917. april 1917, that is with the united states officially enters the war against germany.
what i am going to argue is untrue about this myth is that while officially united dates was neutral, that does not mean that americans were uninvolved. the key point here is that neutrality does not mean noninvolvement. and we can get a sense of how this different concept, neutrality and noninvolvement, if we take a look at woodrow wilson in 1914. here we have the countdown to war, something we have already discussed, how we get from the assassination of archduke ferdinand to the german army actually invading belgium, right? woodrow wilson has to say to the american people, where are we, what is our stake as this war is spreading across europe? this is the quote that we always hear. this is the one that gets pulled out again and again. "we must be impartial in thought as well as action."
woodrow wilson told us to be impartial. he is recognizing right from the very beginning that the government can say america is neutral. the government can say that we have a policy of treating both sides the same. but what the government does is only going to be one side of the story. what american people decide to do, that is going to really tell the tale of how america behaves in this so-called period of neutrality. now, what do the american people
do? there are well-known parts of this story and lesser parts. we know for instance that the banks, american banks, lend overwhelmingly to the allies. that is a well-known parts. we know american manufacturers sell their goods overwhelmingly to the allies side. the average americans do, they reach into their pockets and they contribute humanitarian aid causes. they realize there is some way for them to be involved in the conflict, and the way for them to be involved in the conflict is through humanitarianism. the person who starts this ball
rolling is herbert hoover. and herbert hoover organizes a sort of massive relief effort for belgian civilians. here you can see the kind of propaganda he uses. you have got really hungry children holding out empty tins. herbert hoover is amazing at what he does. statistics say that in terms of the amount of aid that he sent and the amount of money that he raised, there was no greater humanitarian effort, organized by americans, until the recent tsunami. that is tremendous. herbert hoover buys his own ships, he paints them his own colors. he flies his own flag.
he becomes a quasi-nation in and of himself. he enlists the help of average american citizens in this quest. so aiding belgian civilians is what americans overwhelmingly decide that they want to do. they are on the side of the civilians, the people caught up in this war through no fault of their own. now, but we tend to to do is stop there in the story and just to talk about the western front.
but if we think for a second what wilson said, the effect of the war on american society depends on what americans say or do. the thing he was really concerned about and the thing that he knew was that america had just undergone this massive wave of immigration. he knew we had people from all parts of the world, all parts of europe, here in the in the united states, and he did not want the war to tear people apart. he was right to realize different places where americans came from would influence their reactions to the war. we can see this through humanitarian efforts as well. this is the map they come from a friend of mine who did some research into the jewish-american humanitarian aid effort and realize we had massive immigration coming from russia.
if you take a look at this map, which shows you the eastern front, not the western front, but the eastern front, you can see actually a lot of the places that were caught up in the heaviest fighting and therefore had the biggest refugee crisis were places that were heavily populated by jews. the eastern front did a lot of movement back and forth. whenever the army comes through, civilians it up and run. they run as fast as they can. they don't want to get up in this fighting. what begins to begin, you have massive numbers of refugees descending on cities, and they are overwhelmingly jewish refugees. so american jews organized to actually help these people. for a long of these russian jews, for people who are helping belgian civilians, it is sort of humanitarian. but for the russian jews, this is very personal. you have got refugee workers
that walk around the encampments, and they go up to people and ask them do you have relatives in the united states, and if they say yes, do you have your address? so they would say, your hands, your grandfather, your former neighbor is sending you money. that is personal outreach, trying to make sure the person becomes political or the political becomes personal. we can see this with italians, they are also mobilizing. they are very concerned about this as well. places where they came from and making sure they can actually help those communities in need. so in this case, we can see it as a personal that kind of motivates people and groups to contribute to the war effort. even when we talk about belgium, i am not sure you can see what these cases are, but i find this fascinating.
these are facts, facts that have flowered, facts that flower actually going to belgian relief. these are sacks of flour from kansas as a part of hoover's humanitarian relief effort. what is happening is that belgian women, very renowned for their embroidery skills, have embroidered them and sent them back to that kansas community. basically to say, thank you. and so, people want to make a personal connection do they are sending money to. here is the flip side.
they are also sending bibles, things like that. the agreement with german authorities, no notes, nothing else can pass. that is how desperate people are to make a personal connection about, as they are rendering this humanitarian aid. so the point that americans are involved, they are involved through humanitarian effort. the personal and political become very closely connected. the abstraction of the cause begins to have personal meaning or people even because they are
helping people they knew, or they are developing a personal investment in former strangers they are now helping. this begins to motivate people to really care about what is going on in europe. my last sort of major point about humanitarianism is that humanitarianism is never neutral. it is impossible. we agree this is a massive military and effort, americans are actively participating and shaping it. it is not a neutral effort. first of all, given the politics of the war, the vast majority of this aid goes to the allies side. they did not give examples of aid going to germany. it is still going primarily to the allies side.
as much as americans are motivated by the empathy that a there is something in it for them as well. they are also motivated by the way they feel, increasing the stature of the united states in the world. we can see a really good example of this in this poster from the red cross. "they are looking to us for help. are you one of us?" i love how the "us" almost says u.s. and in this conflict it is america alone that can rise above and be above the fray. we are interested in humanitarianism and philanthropy, doing the right thing. we are not and rested in actually taking sides or territorial or anything else that the european nations are involved in. we are above the fray. that is important because what it means, 1917, when woodrow wilson actually asked for a declaration of war, and he says to america, the war goals are better than everyone else's.
world war i because of the sinking of the lusitania. this is my favorite one, because it would be so nice if it wasn't true. so this is a big one. people almost always get wrong. really makes no sense because if you think about the dates, lusitania sinks in may 1915, and the united states doesn't enter the war until april 1917. almost two years before the united states actually enters the war. it is interesting why people so consistently get this wrong. i always tell my students, if you write on a test the lusitania is the reason america got an world war i, you fail automatically. i don't write anything else. why is this a perpetual myth that we have? i think this headline almost is the indication of that.
it would be so straightforward. i think that is one of the reasons why so many people tend to cite that because it is that kind of narrative they have in their head. the idea that they would be attacked, ship goes down, we go to war. that is who we are. immediate response is going to be forceful. what happens in lusitania is not that.
that narrative should make us feel good. we look in the past, we have a moment where americans have died and we don't actually immediately jump into war. nonetheless, this is something we commonly see people making that mistake about right here. now, i want to point out to you exactly where the lusitania is, because that is another kind of this perception about why the lusitania becomes the kind of highly publicized sort of cause that it is. part of it is to realize where the lusitania was sunk. here you can see the sinking of the lusitania, right off the coast of ireland. the lusitania was really one of
those moments where if you ask people 20 or 30 years later, they can tell you where they were when they heard about it. it is like 9/11. they can remember when they heard about lusitania. why? why was it such a shock to people? it goes a little bit of a way of answering that question, because it sunk so fast. it sunk in 18 minutes. no time for people to get to the lifeboats or anybody to make it off the boat. you do survive, you were lucky. days after the sinking, these bodies are washing up on the short. so you have a sinking in the middle of the ocean that nobody witnesses and nobody sees the aftermath, they just hear about thirdhand.
bodies and victims washing up to shore, the press is very happy to report upon. for woodrow wilson, the lusitania sinking is going to be a critical moment for him in his own ideas of defining what neutrality would be. before we were talking a lot about how the average american defined neutrality, how they did humanitarian efforts to make their contribution to the war. but now we have to think about social policy in terms of what is going on, right? and the dilemma for woodrow wilson, and we go back to the map and we can see it, both britain and germany have decided to go to the ocean to fight the war.
the british blockade, the green dots here, they will use their blockade to stop and stuff from getting into germany, and the germans have to fight back with the u-boat. they will use the u-boat. it is important looking at this map that it takes time. that is a war zone by germany. that is the zone that germany is saying to neutral nations like the united states, do not come here, do not come into the war zone don't come into the wars of because you are at risk of getting attacked by a u-boat. they are not saying, don't go anywhere in the atlantic ocean. they are not saying don't go anywhere in the world, just don't go here.
the reason that is going to be important is that you are going to see that in 1915, when woodrow wilson has to decide how to respond to lusitania, he has to do something if people are angry, then he has got several different options. people are going to look at that map and interpret lusitania in very different ways. if i hadn't gone through all of this, if i had just put this up here in terms of what actually happened, i am not going to say, most of you, but a few of you might have said that woodrow wilson goes with breaking to the diplomatic relations and declare war on germany. this is the moment where we have
to enter. then you have some people here arguing almost exactly the opposite. they were the people who looked at that map, and they saw that redline, and they said, we don't want to get involved in this war. here is an idea. why don't you tell americans not to sail into the war zone? if we prohibit people from actually going into this area where germany is patrolling, isn't that a way to stay neutral? what wilson is going to decide is the middle course year. he is going to demand germany pay reparations and accept the right of americans to travel and trade are they wish or risk hostility. this is why the lusitania is important. it is not important because it gets america into the war, it does not. is important because this is a
moment in woodrow wilson draws a line in the sand and says to germany, you step over this line, it is highly likely that there will be hostilities. we are neutral nation, we can do what we want. freedom of the seas, baby. we can go where we want, trade with whom we want. that is our right. neutrality means we have the right that you have to respect. now, that is an interesting definition of neutrality. you may think neutrality means treat both sides equally or stay out of it. after 1915, what woodrow wilson is saying, neutrality is about the rights of neutral nations. that is what germany must respect.
and germany will back off because they don't have enough u-boats to really do that much damage to american ships. they have got their hands full. they don't want america to come into the war. in 1917 they will change their mind. they go back to unconditional warfare and woodrow wilson has drawn the line in the sand, we have seen them come to the decision that we need to go to war against germany. so 1915 is important, but in terms of the official policy of neutrality, but it is another thing that gets us into the war. you may be thinking to yourself, is the average american really following all of this? is this really the kind of intricacy national law and debate the average citizen is all worked up about? we could look at this and say no, this is what makes it important in official ways. in the popular consciousness, what the lusitania does, we have
moments where americans have died, women and children have died, and we can now connect this event -- this is a picture it comes from an actual news report, a report of one of these women who washes up and they talk about her clutching her baby as she washes up on the shore. and now we have something tangible about american lives being lost that connects to british propaganda about atrocities committed by the german army in belgium. that is the idea that uniquely protects women children from german barbarians, which is at the heart of german propaganda movement, now has resonance in the united states as applied to us as well, ok? but the debate is not over in
1915. if we look at this one, we can see the debate is going to go on. for every person that says, look, this is the truth about germany as if we need more. there will be other people that will keep reading this drum. they put a notice in the newspaper. they told you not to get on this ship. they told you that there are munitions on the ship. this will make a difference for woodrow wilson, when he decides to go to war in 1917, he knows he has to declare that line in the sand. but he knows that he is leading a divided nation into war,
right? the nation has not been united in calling for war even because of subsequent things that happened after that, like the telegram. so that is going to lead to myth number three. that wartime spontaneously appeared. this is maybe one of the most famous propaganda posters, uncle sam, the recruitment poster.
what does uncle sam want americans to do? so in this case, i want you for the u.s. army, fight in the army. but uncle sam will want other things in the war, as well. he is going to want them to buy war bonds, conserve food, and some cases spy on neighbors can make sure they are not engaging in espionage or treasonous activities. and what is interesting about this propaganda poster is that it says, "i want you for the u.s. army," implying you have a choice. we see other propaganda posters like this.
it really does show a man kind of wrestling with his conscious, and upperclass man, hiding in the shadows, hiding in the dark, trying to decide what to do. looking out the window, making up his mind. he sees outside is community walking in community in the bright sunlight, not afraid, not hiding in the shadows. and the question is really clear, which side of the window are you? you have to make a decision about what you are going to do. there is a lot that is wrong about this poster, in terms of what actually happens, right? and the first part is with the enlist. in raising an army, america will do something it has never done before. from the very beginning of the war, they will institute a draft. now, we have had drafts before. but the drafts before always
came in the middle of the war. so, when people stop in listing, stop volunteering. they said, ok, we have to go to the draft. in this instance, we go to the draft right from the very beginning, right? and we do this for a few reasons. and here is the sort of interesting -- of course you do not call a draft. we hardly ever call it conscription. if you say conscription, that says that maybe the u.s. is divided, forced to fight an unfortunate conflict. what do we call it? "selective service," right? the men here know that. just think about branding, selective service is different from the draft.
it means that if you are chosen, right, you are selected -- lucky you -- you are selected for service to your country. and everybody owes some service to your country, nobody is going to get off the hook for owing some service. even the idea of people serving in the military, the reality is different than people sort of individually making up their own minds.
so you, for example, do not want all of your trained engineers walking off of railroad lines and joining the military. who is going to drive the railroad, move goods around the country? you don't want farmers, skilled laborers doing this. it is a way to kind of manage your workforce at this exact same time. now, what i find, fascinating about this, besides the fact of conscription, how it actually works in practice. we had it in the civil war. it is introduced well into the conflict. and it is kind of an individual
thing. we literally have a registrar, individually registering men. you know there is a lot of resistance to the draft, a lot of resistance. you could buy a substitute, it was easy to get out of it. right? in the first world war, they want to make sure you are not alone, that you are watched while you do it. on june 17, 1915, there was a national day to register for the selective service. that means all the men, 21-30, you have to go to your polling place, church, school, wherever they are having the registration, and everybody is going to watch you do it. and if you forget or you do not
show up, we are going to publish your name in the newspaper. basically, going to use peer and community pressure to make sure you do the right thing. right? and this idea of turning registration and even the whole induction process into this community event, self policing on the committee level to make sure men actually register for the draft, this is going to be very, very successful. right? "slacker raids," to round up all of those men who are suspected of not registering for the draft, or not reporting when they have been told to come.
or for some reason, able-bodied, but got a deferment, change jobs, should not have it anymore. and they fan out, going into movie theaters and grab people by the back of the neck, through them in the truck, stand outside the gates of state fairs. i am sure they were only motivated by patriotism, not by the bonus for each slacker that they got when they were coming down, right? so many problems with this, right? these people do not have any authority, they are taking it upon themselves. most of these people turn out to be not slackers, they have reasons not to be in the military. they are sort of legitimate. it is bad publicity for the war because it seems to suggest that people are not fighting, they do not want to fight the war is unpopular.
we see the government actually putting an end to this one pretty quickly. but the point here, in terms of wartime unity, is to say that when we think about people complying with selective service regulations, and most people do, there is a lot of pressure to actually do that. and it just because you are a woman, that doesn't mean you're off the hook either. right? oh, sorry, i was going to say little bit here about alvin york. he is the most famous american who comes out of the first world war. he is highly decorated. he is credited in one book of killing 15 germans and gathering 132 prisoners. that is a picture of alvin york. no, it is not. you guys are too young. that is not alvin york. that is gary cooper, who place them in a movie.
that goes over well with a certain generation. an older crowd, that is right. here is alvin york. he is almost 30 years old, not going to be drafted. can request non-combatant duty, try again, refusing to perform any military duty. some people do this. they went to leavenworth. because i told you he was the most decorated hero of world war i, you know he chooses number three. it is interesting why he chooses number three. he has a sympathetic company commander, well-versed in the bible.
and a theological discussion, alvin york says to him, the bible says thou shall not kill. the commander says the bible also says render unto caesar, that which is caesar's. he says to alvin york, i will give you the weekend, make up your mind. he goes home, studies is bible, and the company commander says, why did you change your mind? because the bible says, blessed are the peacemakers. this is going to be woodrow wilson's war, the last one we will have to fight. and the question we have about alvin york, what does he tell us, right? he is telling us he decides to fight, but it shows you how hard it is to become a conscientious objector. people are putting into this war
to create an important goal in terms of how we think about it. and we have some interesting things in the training camp, where even the military these are 18,000 soldiers standing on pieces of boards in iowa. the guy is up there in the shape of the statue of liberty. this is showing their patriotism, by standing in formation, demonstrating that you actually -- u are a loyal american citizen. so these are these kind of crazy demonstrations of patriotism, that even if you are a soldier in uniform, people are asking you to engage.
women are being asked to participate in all sort of ways, knitting is a big one here. people wonder why knitting, why focusing on women knitting? if you think a bit about trench warfare, member when we talked about it? the germans dug nice, dry trenches, the allied side is closer to the water, standing in wet feet. all sorts of nasty things like trenchfoot, gangrene. i could show you gross pictures. a functional purpose, men actually do need socks. but it is safe to say that american women go a little crazy with knitting. this is 1917. let us say 1918.
this is from the new york philharmonic society, saying stop knitting, because it is really disturbing. people are trying to enjoy the music, right? and you have to ask yourself, why are women feeling like it is so necessary to knit and every spare moment? they are being, in a sense, pressure to demonstrate their patriotism in ways that are somewhat similar to men registering in front of their neighbors for the draft here, right?
every family is asked to sign and abide by the hoover pledge, you can expect another -- i told you you will not get a knock on the door by registering for the draft what you could get one for the food pledge. how do i know that my neighbor has signed the food pledge, that they are actually complying? they thought it through. you are going to put that sign in your window, and that will demonstrate everybody you are doing your duty, demonstrate the people that you are actually involved. and for the people that do not do this, the people that do not
want to hang these in the window, that do not want to sign and admit that -- this is seen as evidence of disloyalty, not doing your patriotic duty. myth number four. it had no lasting impact on american society. i am not exaggerating to you to say it is my life work to get this one off of the books and out of people's minds. well, we don't really have to talk about it too much, it does not matter that much for the u.s.
matters more for europe, not really for us. so, i could say a lot about this. what i am going to say are some things about how it affects social movements in the u.s. i wanted to about three things -- civil rights, suffrage movement, and the movement for prohibition. these are three movements, long-standing reform movements, that are dramatically affected by the first world war. i am going to go ahead and start with the civil rights movement. i like this poster because it is a good counter to the when we look at propaganda, we almost always look at the government side of the story, the official propaganda posters that are distributed. but what we fail to remember or look at, privately produced propaganda posters.
washington, wilson, abraham lincoln -- marketed as always the big guy, the big figure. very proud and patriotic. probably if we think about it, not that popular of an image. but i will tell you why this image is so important. you know, we have the official propaganda posters because the government is a good collector. at the end of the war, some agency puts those things, slides and into a drawer. 100 years later, we can come look at them. these things at the end of the war, they are trash. i'm sure you all had posters in your room, you went to college, your mom ripped them down. why do we have this poster? we have this poster because the postmistress in melbourne, florida sent it to the postmaster general to ask him if this was the kind of seditious material that should be banned
from the mail under the terms of the espionage act. let that sink in there for a second. she considers this seditious material. what is seditious about this poster to her? >> is in the color of their skin? jennifer: the color of the skin, in what sense? >> they live in an upper-class home. jennifer: they probably lived better than this white postmistress does. it is a sense of economic achievement, the assertion of equality. that they are on the same level as whites.
in fact, she actually knows in her letter "the considerable influence from the negro element lately." what is in her mind? this kind of privately produced poster, that this war for democracy, with african-american men and communities doing their bit, is going to advance the civil rights movement. it will mean that finally there will be honor and justice for all. and what that exchange demonstrates to us is that this is exactly what white supremacists are provide is going to happen -- are petrified is going to happen.
this is just one example, i could give you more. you may not have heard of charles houston, but he is the guy who devises the naacp rules for brown versus board of education. we look at this cartoon here. it is like if you are good enough for war, you are good enough to vote. kind of like giving the impression that a grateful nation bestowed the vote on women for all of that knitting. this is so not what happens, so not what happens. look at what they are doing, picketing in front of the white house. nobody had ever done that
before. this is new. this is a new idea. you have women like this, right? making the world safe for democracy, they are in it. they stood outside the white house with a banner, right? but these women, i mean, if you have time to study them in depth, it is amazing. here are some ideas from the new york times. woodrow wilson finally does back women's suffrage in the middle of the war.
again, you want to think it is because of women supporting the war effort. but the real secret is down here at the end. suffrage states, some states are beginning to pass female suffrage. they were worried that when women started voting in new york state that that was going to hurt the democratic party, right? now they think about women having power. but this campaign goes into 1919. a goes in the 1920 when the amendment is finally ratified. even in 1919, they burn woodrow wilson in effigy, out the white house. they were organized, radicalized, militant. they were the ones out there pressing their cause, right? so i don't think anybody could say that it does not matter that women got the right to vote. that comes out of the first world war.